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Legal enterprise search at the crossroads

Reporting on an ARK KM session

October 31, 2019

Home Blog Research & intelligence Legal enterprise search at the crossroads
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Without effective search capabilities, knowledge management systems are essentially worthless, becoming more of a historical archive than a dynamic information resource.

Enterprise search was a session topic at the 2019 ARK Group conference, Knowledge Management in the Legal Profession, where LAC Group was a sponsor. Search is essential not only for knowledge management (KM), but other functions and processes. The following information is based primarily on live reporting from LAC Group CKO Ron Friedmann.

Enterprise search in a law firm

“Legal Enterprise Search at the Crossroads” was the title of a conference session dedicated to the importance of search and being able to find the information you want, when you need it. The title reflects the underlying premise and mission of legal KM and this conference in particular, which was described as follows on the conference website:

Exploring KM’s potential as an ‘organizational capability’ for leveraging the firm’s experience, data and intellectual capital as a strategic resource, while evolving in step with demands that are reshaping both the practice and business of law.

The session was moderated by KM and technology strategy consultant Brenton Miller. His panel featured:

  • Harris Tilevitz, Chief Technology Officer at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP
  • Douglas Freeman, Knowledge Systems Manager at White & Case LLP
  • Kate Simpson, National Director of Knowledge Management at Bennett Jones LLP
From left to right: Harris Tilevitz, Douglas Freeman, Kate Simpson and Brenton Miller

It’s all in the timing

Moderator Brent Miller says enterprise search decisions are all about timing. When asked if this was the right time to rethink a firm’s enterprise search strategy, about 15% of the 200 person audience raised their hand to say their firm plans to change its enterprise search engines in the next two years. 

Search decisions at the firms represented in the panel

  • Bennett Jones has selected but not yet launched iManage RAVN, an Artificial Intelligence-enabled platform.
  • White & Case is a Decisiv shop. Doug Freeman said he has rebuilt it three times. The firm has largely removed the native UI and search is now done via a custom API in the Intranet. White & Case has evaluated and continues to evaluate other search products, which Ron Friedmann understood to mean the firm does not think current alternatives offer the full set of functionality it currently has.
  • Skadden recently found Sinequa, positioned as a leader by both Forrester and Gartner, and established it as the firm’s main search tool. The firm creates databases against which to search, such as practice areas, or repositories created from multiple searches.

Step back: What is enterprise search? 

According to Wikipedia, enterprise search is the practice of making content from multiple sources within the enterprise, such as databases and intranets, searchable to a defined audience.

In preparation for the session, the panelists debated if it’s valid to say we now have a second generation of enterprise search products. They concluded that the new systems are not fundamentally different and therefore unclear if we are at gen-two. 

The noteworthy changes in the current generation, however, are shown in this slide:

Evolving legal enterprise search

New feature highlights include: 

  • Visualization
  • Integration with document management system (DMS) index
  • Open-source foundation
  • Non-SQL indexing
  • Integration with machine learning and AI approaches

What has worked, failed and changed in enterprise search

Bennett Jones presenter: Search is overhyped and it’s very hard to make it work. It takes a lot of data and tech effort to make it work, and making it simple for lawyers is especially hard. Don’t believe that it is plug and play.

White & Case presenter: We rely heavily on metrics, looking at what users were doing with original search. That led to both cosmetic name changes and substantive changes such as not requiring users to choose context like people, documents or matters. Now, the search function returns all categories organized visually, including people pictures. 

One limitation to date: going beyond the document. Search returns a document and the user has to open it. But with other content types, the system can present visualizations and lists. Wish list includes going beyond docs to clauses or entities and then linking to resources by those chunks of information. Firm has tried and is waiting for technology to enable this. 

Skadden presenter: Sees enterprise search as a set of tools. Law firms can’t replicate what Google does because they don’t have billions of daily searches, so they can’t learn the way Google does. The alternative is to create smaller, refined data collections and put search against that to improve results.

The value of and need for metadata

Skadden presenter: Search is much improved if you can search on metadata as well as underlying content, and creating good metadata is expensive as it still requires human effort. 

Bennett Jones presenter: Blue J Legal (for finding relevant cases and predicting court outcomes) has turned search on its head by allowing working with concepts. However this requires a lot of human curation. 

With the inherently large document volume of law firms, there is too much noise when just searching on underlying content; metadata allows filtering to help get good results. 

Where search tools are going

Skadden presenter: Sinequa talks about natural language processing and has a vision for more features, but metadata and refined collections remain key. It’s not clear, in our lifetime, that computers will automate this process. The data extraction seen to date, after talking to many companies, is very limited. No technology, for example, can extract all the deal points from the documents. Separately, with the move to privacy, confidentiality and the least-privileged model—allowing only enough access to perform the required job—search may become more difficult.

White & Case presenter: Search can help us get past the pessimistic environment of the least privileged model. Lawyers can use search to find experts but not see the documents, so classification will become more important.

Bennett Jones presenter: Search is like a mountain hike and RAVN Insight can do the hike. Being able to see the company vision, to see the knowledge graph, to get to answers and not just links, should all be possible with its vision.

Legal enterprise search is at a crossroads

We finish with a description of the session, as it aptly summarizes the dilemmas of enterprise search for law firms:

Most firms have implemented some form of enterprise search. However, the implementation and ongoing maintenance of these solutions has not been easy or cheap, and the actual usage and perceived benefits have not lived up to expectations. Yet the idea of allowing these first-generation enterprise search solutions to simply age-out as support rapidly dwindles is as unacceptable as the idea of jumping to a new system. Are things really that bleak? Or are the second-generation enterprise search solutions actually something to get excited about, with their AI capabilities, scalability and new visualization tools? This panel will identify lessons learned from their first-generation implementations and, more importantly, how these lessons can be applied to second-generation projects to avoid the “fool me twice” concerns.

LAC Group thanks ARK Group and all the presenters for providing helpful and valuable information and insights on legal knowledge management.

Read Ron’s original article composed live from the session

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